Our class Saturday really got me considering where I land in the debate over Big Business vs. Mom-and-Pop establishments.
As luck would have it, there are many blog posts and articles about this very topic so I will do my best to form at least one original thought here. One blog in particular hypothesized an encounter with a “progressive” friend judging another seemingly less “progressive” friend for purchasing something from the evil, mammoth, low-cost retailer, Wal-Mart–over a cup of fair trade coffee, of course.
A humorous introduction to a more serious topic to be sure, but a situation I've actually experienced on more than one occasion. Any time my friend, Sam, comes to visit from San Francisco, I find myself quickly disposing of anything plastic, non-organic, or purchased from a store with more than 2 locations and 20 employees. I value our friendship and his commitment to living in a way that protects our resources and human capital. Really, I do. Mostly. Almost always. Okay, sometimes I just want to go to Ralph's or Target or Costco (Wal-Mart is sort of creepy to me for reasons that surely stem from my yearly visits in Redneck-ville, Texas) and score a great deal on over-fished salmon or two cases of water at rock-bottom prices. There, I said it. But what to do about the guilt of supporting companies that, more often than not, put the local, small-business owners out on the street?
Back to the blog post with the hypothetical friends. The authors, Jacqueline Otto and RJ Moeller, readily admit that it appears contradictory for conservative leaning thinkers to call for smaller government and localized charity while simultaneously supporting multi-national corporations. They go on to outline several points explaining the reasoning behind the incongruity which includes the obvious–corporations often begin as Mom-and-Pop stores. Sam Walton opened Wal-Mart with his father and wife. There are countless examples of the “American Dream” realized by folks who scraped together their last few dollars, mortgaged their homes, spent their kids' college funds or who couldn't make payroll–more than once–all in an effort to build something sustainable, in the least, and wildly, massively, billionaire-level successful at best.
And you know what? It's okay that those companies exist. They do provide employment and convenience and hilarious pictures on the internet of the inappropriate outfits people wear when shopping there. They are not all monsters thriving on the sacrifice of small business. Well, some are, but this post is too long already to discuss in detail.
We love those obscene success stories. We might even have aspirations to be the next Sam Walton or Dolly Parton (do you have any idea how much money she's made off Dollywood and royalties from I Will Always Love You?). We might, though, have a dream to own a one-location cafe, bookstore (remember those–the ones with paper books?) or throwback toy store (check out Tiddlywinks in Old Town Orange). We might want to provide a unique, customized, sentimental experience for those who visit and maybe even purchase our wares. People out there might just remember they want something like that too.